Chinese food in America: a recipe for racism


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According to rumor, the Chinese eat everything. From rats, to snakes to bats, they are desperate enough to cook anything in a dish.
Chinese food first rose to popularity in the late 1800s for the cheap prices and great flavors, but misconceptions arose due to the “stench” of Chinese kitchens. For years, negative stereotypes of uncleanliness have not only been associated with Chinese food in America, but have also fed into many racist stereotypes about Chinese Americans.
Chinese cuisine has always been an enormous part of the culture, connecting very closely with most national holidays, like Lunar New Year or the Mid-Autumn Festival, where different specific foods must be eaten according to tradition based on the meaning of the specific foods. Unlike the more individual dishes seen on American tables, Chinese food is meant to be shared with everyone so that everyone may get a taste of everything.
Unlike the US, China has had thousands of years of history, in which money and resources were limited, therefore wasting food was not an option. This gave the Chinese a history of eating everything, since residents tried to minimize food waste by turning certain “inedible” items into delicious dishes. Although most of China no longer faces the problems of starvation, food is still given a lot of attention due to its connection to the people. Chinese people are very particular about their food, with many different aspects to consider, including taste, presentation and smell. Food culture in China can not be described with a single most prominent dish, as it is very complicated and is different from region to region, since China is a multicultural country.
In order to avoid racist remarks, many Chinese Americans refused to eat Asian food, since many dishes are considered abnormal in the west and have a strong smell even though they are common in Asia. Chicken feet, duck tongue, beef tendon and preserved eggs are some of many of foods that may sound “weird” or “gross” from a Western perspective, even though they are eaten routinely in many Asian cultures.
In the segment “Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts” on “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” Corden alongside famous celebrity guests took turns answering a difficult personal question or eating one of the many “unappetizing” foods presented. The food that was prepared included balut, century old eggs and chicken feet, all which are common foods or even delicacies in various Asian cultures. The segment faced heavy criticism earlier this year for cultural insensitivity and feeding into the stereotype of Asian food being nauseating.
Overcoming many struggles, Chinese cuisine is one of the most popular cuisines in the world, with lots of variety that accommodates a vast amount of people. According to a study conducted by YouGov, Chinese cuisine is the third most popular foriegn cuisine in America. However, Chinese cuisine is often closely associated with non-authentic American Chinese food, such as orange chicken, or egg rolls, both of which are completely different in China. Restaurant chains like Panda Express are known for serving American Chinese food, and while they are extremely popular for being a guilty pleasure comfort food, it should not be labeled as authentic Chinese food, since it was an American creation.
The media instantly demonized the Chinese for their eating habits in the media when it became widespread that the Covid-19 pandemic was likely caused by the consumption of bats. “The Chinese virus” caused Asian Americans to be targeted by racism in anti-Asian hate crimes across the country, and blamed for causing the devastating pandemic which affected nearly everyone in the world. Chinese food was once again labeled as dirty.
Food has integrated into the daily life and culture of Chinese people, and appreciation and respect for food is highly valued. “民以食为天,” pronounced “mín yǐ shí wéi tiān,” is a commonly used old Chinese proverb meaning “food is the most important to people.” It emphasizes how the people regard food as the essence of life, and today, Chinese people use this proverb to show how important Chinese food is to them. For Chinese Americans, being told that the food you love is disgusting can make you afraid to indulge in your cultures, but we should all be able to be comfortable with our own cultures without feeling like we must adopt a western point of view.